Olympics ‘can build bridges’ with Russian athletes in Paris, IOC insists | International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee says the Olympics can “set an example” to the world of unity and bridge-building as it defends plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to qualify for Paris 2024.

The IOC has faced heavy criticism in some quarters for considering ways in which athletes from Russia and Belarus could participate in the Games as neutrals amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

A group of more than 30 nations – including the UK – issued a collective statement on Monday calling for the ban on these athletes to continue.

In a statement issued to mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion launched by Russia, the IOC said it had shown “unwavering solidarity” with the people and athletes of Ukraine, but insisted its mission was to promote peace through of sport, citing how athletes from warring countries such as North and South Korea, Israel and Palestine, and Armenia and Azerbaijan had competed in the same Games in the past.

“During the Olympic Games, athletes from 206 different National Olympic Committees live together peacefully in the Olympic Village,” the announcement reads. “Efforts to build peace need dialogue. A match with athletes who respect the Olympic Charter can serve as a catalyst for dialogue, which is always the first step to achieving peace.

“The Olympics cannot prevent wars and conflicts. Nor can they address all the political and social challenges in our world. This is the realm of politics. But the Olympics can set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and each other.

“They can inspire us to solve problems by building bridges, leading to better understanding between people. They can open the door to dialogue and peacebuilding in ways that exclusion and division do not.”

Government representatives from more than 30 nations, including the UK, have called on the IOC to continue banning athletes from Russia and Belarus.

The IOC issued a recommendation to international sports federations in the days immediately after the invasion began that they should ban these athletes from their competitions, but IOC president Thomas Bach has since said this was only a measure aimed at in “protection “These athletes. He now argues that Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be discriminated against because of their passports.

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The group of more than 30 like-minded nations had issued an earlier statement last July saying that, based on the principle of non-discrimination, it supported those athletes competing as neutrals. However, their statement on Monday pointed out: “In Russia and Belarus, sport and politics are closely intertwined. We have strong concerns about how feasible it is for Russian and Belarusian Olympic athletes to compete as “neutrals” – under IOC conditions without identification with their country – when they are directly funded and supported by their states [unlike, say, professional tennis players].

“The strong ties and relationships between Russian athletes and the Russian military are also of clear concern. Therefore, our collective approach throughout has never been one of discriminating simply on the basis of nationality, but these strong concerns must be addressed by the IOC.”

UK Culture Secretary Lucy Fraser said nations had agreed that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot use sport to legitimize his actions on the world stage”.

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